Warner Bros. television to produce cable programming

Warner Brothers Television, the largest producer of primetime series for broadcast networks, is now targeting cable television with lower cost primetime shows.

The company announced it is creating a unit, called Warner Horizon Television, to generate shows specifically for cable TV networks. Peter Roth, longtime head of the broadcast-centric production company, will head it.

In an interview with the New York Times, Roth said the creation of Warner Horizon was an acknowledgment that cable networks are becoming ever more important in the series television business. He called cable “the one clear potential growth opportunity” for series development.

The goal will be to find ways to produce series, both scripted shows and reality shows, for much less than they generally cost on broadcast network television.

Ad-supported cable channels have much smaller production budgets than broadcast networks and have never paid anything close to what networks pay for shows. An hour-long network show generally costs $1.5 million to $2 million an episode.

Roth said that Warner Horizon shows for cable networks would have to be produced at “a significantly lower cost.” He estimated the budgets would have to be $400,000 to $500,000 less per episode.

Roth said he believed that there was “profitability to be had” in making shows for cable, even though cable series have not yet generated the kind of continuing profits that hit network shows have in syndication. He cited the changing marketplace for distributing TV shows as opening up new opportunities.

“There is always library value,” he said. “There is brand extension, and there are windows being created in this new digital age.” Among those are outlets such as the Internet and iPods, which will have increasing demands for video content.

Roth, who took over leadership of the studio in 1999, emphasized that the new venture will have no impact on Warner Brothers' traditional television production business. The studio produced 33 series for broadcast networks last season.

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